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Servants give their hearts to those in need on day of service
Gov.-elects call answered by volunteers at Good News at Noon, other sites statewide
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Nita Cagle, wife of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, talks with people taking advantage of a hot meal Saturday at Good News at Noon in Gainesville as part of Gov.-elect Nathan Deal's day of service. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

SLIDESHOW: See an audio slideshow from the Day of Service.

Larry Collins' voice grew strong as he spoke into the microphone shortly before lunchtime.

Dozens of men and women anticipate the daily devotional, a tradition at Good News at Noon where volunteers share words of inspiration, prayers and music before serving those in need.

But Saturday, the audience encompassed those harboring a hunger to give, too.

"If you feel a tug at your heart," said Collins, an evangelist with Cleveland's House of Prayer, "I pray you open it today."

About 150 volunteers arrived to the center as part of a statewide service appeal prompted by Gov.-elect Nathan Deal as a kickoff to his inauguration Monday. The day's theme: "With a Servant's Heart."

Good News at Noon and Good News Clinics were chosen by Deal's staff to participate in the lineup of similar events scattered at more than 30 locations across Georgia.

Collins' small church of 40-50 people provide lunch monthly for the disadvantaged who flock to Gainesville's shelter. They welcomed Saturday's challenge to serve the hungry and hearty alike.

"It takes us all," Collins said, "from the greatest to the smallest. God can use us."

Volunteers arrived in shifts beginning at 9 a.m. and tackled the center's cavernous pantry where Roger Powell directed much of the work. He packages groceries for needy families who arrive weekly for staples like rice, beans, and canned vegetables.

"What we've accomplished today is awesome," Powell said, looking to the tall shelves stacked with food products. "This is going to make my job a whole lot easier as a volunteer. But we still have a lot to do. It's an ongoing task working for the Lord."

Volunteers arrived alone and in groups, representing local businesses and schools including Bank of America, Lakeview Academy and several area colleges. Service is the norm rather than the exception at the center, said Pastor Ed Grant, the shelter's director.

But the attention lavished by high-profile volunteers made the occasion special, he added.

"It went very well, better than expected," Grant said. "Man makes the plans but God makes the counsel."
Joining the efforts were Deal's wife, Sandra, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who toured parts of the center and spoke to those gathered at lunch.

"If we put others before ourselves, it will be a great year, I promise you," he said.

Sandra Deal spent the morning bagging rice and beans, Grant said, before visiting Good News Clinics. There, she introduced herself to patients, conducted a few patient interviews and addressed some of the 150 volunteers.

"That was meaningful," said Cheryl Christian, executive director of the clinic, "just showing that appreciation and recognition that there is a huge problem with uninsured people in our community."

Men, women, and children in pain arrived as early as 7 a.m., Christian said, with many of them needing dental care. So the clinic opened an hour earlier than planned.

Another quick decision made Saturday involved transportation. First Baptist Church donated use of its three, 15-seat buses as overflow waiting rooms. Instead of remaining parked, however, drivers and clinic staff shuttled patients to and from shelters and known homeless locations.

"We wanted to see what would happen," Christian said. "People got on the bus and came for (help)."

More than 125 patients were cared for by 1 p.m., with drug disbursements for ailments such as diabetes among the most critical needs, said Dr. James A. Butts, a retired oncologist and the clinic's volunteer medical director. Appointments were made for those needing acute medical care, including a woman who needed help scheduling a mammogram.

These cases were small in number compared with the need for dental care, Butts said.

"That must tell us something," he said. "Dental care in this country for a certain segment of people is too expensive."

Children's cries could be heard where 44 dentists, volunteer hygienists and dental assistants are deluged with cases on a regular bases.

At least 65 cases, including a number of tooth extractions, were handled Saturday, reported Dr. Ed Burnette, a retired dentist and founding director of the dental clinic.

"A lot of them can't afford to see a dentist," Burnette said. "We are seeing people now that we would not have seen two or three years ago. Because they've been laid off, lost their jobs, lost their insurance and they don't have the money."

Similar events were held elsewhere around the state Saturday. In Statesboro, 70 volunteers painted, made repairs, cleaned up, sorted clothing and did various tasks for Fostering Families Bulloch. (for more, visit here)

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